Commanding Officer
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Petty Officer 3rd Class Ramzi Zinnekah, 34, from Palm Springs, Calif., who is an electronics technician with Riverine Squadron 3, Detachment 2, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, talks with two Iraqi policemen as they go over paperwork for a basic boating course at Lake Qadisiyyah, Iraq, Oct. 5 . Zinnekah speaks both Arabic and English and is an instructor for the course that teaches Iraqi policemen basic boating skills. ::r::::n::

Photo by Lance Cpl. Paul Torres

From Banker to Riverine: Sailor Uses Language Skills

8 Oct 2008 | Lance Cpl. Paul Torres

Communication is the key to success. This can be hard if the people trying to communicate don't even speak the same language.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Ramzi Zinnekah, 34, from Palm Springs, Calif., is able to help his fellow shipmates considerably by serving as an interpreter due to his versatile history.

“I was born in Beirut, Lebanon, but I lived primarily in Dubai,” said Zinnekah, who is an electronics technician with Riverine Squadron 3, Detachment 2, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5. “I grew up speaking Arabic and English because my parents spoke them.”

Zinnekah had previously been an investment banker before he decided to pursue a career in the military.

“(The military) was something I had always wanted to do, and I didn't want to wait until it was too late,” said Zinnekah. “I wanted to help out, and I have found that the best way to help is to be on the front lines.”

 During his seven-month deployment to western al-Anbar province, Iraq, Zinnekah has helped his unit train the Iraqi Police force in basic seamanship. His primary function as an instructor is to teach classes from an English curriculum in Arabic, however, he also acts as a liaison between the Iraqi policemen and the Riverines.

“I wanted to be in the middle of everything going on over here, and once we got here I had a clearer picture of what my role was going to be and where I could be of the greatest use,” said Zinnekah.

“There was one time when we got called up on a quick reaction mission and our interpreters were unavailable,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Michael K. Combs, 37, from Paintsville, Ky., who is an electronics technician with the Riverines. “They needed an interpreter to go with them, so (Zinnekah) ran down and grabbed his gear.”

Though translators are contracted out to most units, Zinnekah is often able to bring a clearer perspective to the Iraqis and to his unit when translating.

“(Coalition forces) are well intentioned, but a lot of times that can get lost in translation,” said Zinnekah.  “Because I know the Arabic culture and I understand the military mindset, I am able to communicate a clearer picture across the languages.”

In addition to helping bridge the language gap, Zinnekah has also helped inform some of his shipmates about the Arabic culture.

“He is able to pickup on subtleties about how a certain situation is going which has helped us out with public relations,” said Combs. 

Zinnekah has enjoyed acting as a mediator between the two cultures, but is still thinking about what he wants to do in the future.

“This environment has shown me that I love working across cultures, so I am probably going to pursue a career that will let me do that,” said Zinnekah.


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